Orphans and stealing. Tyrant and magic. Gypsies and royalty. It's a grand world Emory Sharplin has imagined. The beginning grabs you and unfolds the story beautifully. The initial world-building (in some indeterminate time with tunics and horses and beheadings) is decent with just one element of magic - a charmed bracelet - that gives a hint of things to come. There were a couple instances of vocabulary use that didn't mean what the author was intending. It gave me a hint that the author was fairly young and a little digging revealed that she is all of seventeen. In retrospect, this bit of extra information didn't help me enjoy this book. I was more impressed with the writing and fairly controlled structure. The pace was okay and the story was logically progressing. Then some things started jumping out at me: the dialogue, the characterization, the utter lack of internal conflict/inspection. All of these pointed to pretty untried life experience. The characters are mostly in their early teens, so maybe that is all well and good. Accurate even. But then there is no sense that anything that the kids do is a product of their thinking or ability. They're just crazy lucky. And that's when what promise the book had withered.
Sharplin has some seriously good turns of phrase. She has an ear for an elegant sentence. This is an odd, but not awful, juxtaposition with the teenage banter or braggadocio that permeates the dialogue. She could turn out a good piece of literary fiction someday in the style of Ann Patchett. Of course that is a far cry from the fantasy fiction here. After the first third or so of the book, the real meat of the plot comes in and becomes a magical smorgasbord. Instead of connections and history and steady layering, random magic becomes an easy out to move things along or explain how things came it be. Even in fantasy, there has to be trueness to the reality that has been established. Throwing in monsters and pills and bizarre safe houses with mine carts and elevators and passing through floors just makes the story a messy fingerpainting of a story.
This also applies to oh-so-convenient coincidences and lucky guesses and clunky foreshadowing. I finished the book since I felt obligated to review it, but the last 200 pages were read without faith or joy. It's a decent length at 350 pages, but it ends so abruptly with a wacky surprise so soon after the climax that it feels like it ended in the middle of the story. I see a complex plot forming with this book to be continued in others, but I don't need to know the rest of this adventure.